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18 Dec

Happy holidays, Feliz Navidad and Merry Christmas!

Recently, I got to see Madrid’s own Christmastime public display that is put on each year by El Corte Inglés (a huge, overpriced department store that has almost everything – kind of like Wal-Mart, but classier…).  This display is at Corte Inglés de Preciados, downtown, and it is worth going to see everyone’s faces light up at the songs and the animation.  The show was about 15 minutes long.  I understood some of the lyrics (with help from my friend, Yani) and almost learned the refrain for the Cortylandia song, which is in the video below – catchy, isn’t it?



2 Sep

Yesterday, Justin and I decided to wander a bit on bikes into a nearby neighborhood that we have not explored but one other time.  We were interested in finding a reputed bike shop, as well as scoping out what other things were in the area – after being here for a year, we have a better idea of which grocery store chains that are good for certain things.  We also have a few items on our list for the boat that might be taken care of in one of the little ferreterías (hardware stores with really cool things like paella pans and aluminum coffee pots!), so we were in scoping-out mode.

The weather changed in Madrid overnight in the last two days, and we had woken up to 55 degrees or so, after seeing most mornings in August hover above 75 degrees.  We pulled out the armwarmers and used them with our normal clothes for our wandering ride.  It was lovely, to say the least.  We both love autumn.

After stopping for a coffee and cookie at a bakery, we found ourselves trying to decide if it made sense to go ahead and get both of our hair cut at the shop a few doors down from the bakery – we went in and were committed…the experience ended up being one of those surreal, fascinating experiences that leaves you laughing a bit – people are funny.

Justin’s haircut was done in about 2 minutes – a testament to the skill that the barber had (2 weeks earlier, Justin had persuaded me to “give it a go” with his shaver and scissors…I didn’t do too terribly bad, but it was an hour affair, plus all the follow-up when I found hairs sticking up later on that I had missed).  I, on the other hand, opted for some more highlights and a cut.  My stylist was super friendly, and we discussed 1) traveling, 2) American politics, 3) the differences in perception of minorities in America and Spain, 4) vegetarianism, and 5) how biking gives you really strong legs.  It counted as Spanish class for me.  While I was waiting with the foils in my hair, everyone in the salon participated in a discussion about bikes, bike brands, where the nearest bike shop was, and the Camino de Santiago, which is a popular route that many pilgrims take in northern Spain that can also be done on bikes.

Then, other customers started coming in, including el jefe (the boss) of the salon who showed up with his son and daughter.  The man spoke in a booming voice that probably resonated all the way back to the coffee shop, but was friendly with his staff and told everyone about his vacation over the past month.  The excitement started when he was in the chair getting his hair cut, and his daughter decided she did not want her hair cut.  Round and round, he pleaded with her (in a rather booming voice) while the barber who was going to cut her hair stood in the room with a cape outstretched in his hand like he was a bullfighter.   The rest of us watched in amazement as the little girl ran out of the salon yelling “¡No lo quiero!” (I don’t want it!); we never saw her return while we were there.  Then, another little boy showed up in tears with his father – the barber was a bit more aggressive about going in with the shaver immediately and getting the hair cut done than he had been with his jefe’s daughter!

All in all, it was pretty entertaining, with lots of Spanish practice and certainly not something we expected or had sought out – without a doubt, these have been some of our favorite kinds of experiences that we’ve had during our time in Europe.  We laughed all the way home.

Heatwaves and helados

19 Aug

Madrid is in the throes of a heat wave (una ola de calor).  It’s not too bad, considering our point of comparison swings between Austin, Texas and Norman, Oklahoma where we experienced plenty of agonizing summer days, usually making the worst of it by riding our bikes on scorching asphalt.

We’ve grown a bit wiser with dealing with the heat nowadays, noting the wisdom of the Spaniards:

  • Eating Gazpacho (cold, tomato-based soup) – although Justin won’t touch this with a 10-foot pole, I slurp it up with gusto.  Fantastic.
  • Using la piscina (pool) more – our apartment has a fantastic rooftop pool that we are appreciating more and more.  Unbelievably, it seems to remain quite cool, considering the amount of sun it gets!
  • Shifting our days a bit – we do still like the mornings, but we’re enjoying the respite from the afternoon heat by doing more in the evenings.  Our days have shifted more towards waking a bit later and considering 10-11pm as more appropriate for bedtime.
  • Enjoying Tinto de verano (summer wine) – technically, I think that this is red wine with Fresca or gaseosa (something I have not quite figure out yet – sweet, sparkling water?), but we’ve adapted the idea a bit to cool down our red wine by adding a bit of orange juice and ice…more like a sangria, but without the effort of cutting up all the fruit.  It’s good, and it’s light.

Yesterday, we met our friends, Ari and Yani to celebrate Yani’s birthday (which we missed last month due to being in the middle of the Atlantic).  We all met for a bike ride through the Retiro and followed it up with sampling ice cream at Helados Sienna, near the Retiro.  The ice cream (el helado) was fantastic – a great reminder of another tool for dealing with the heat (as long as your cholesterol can handle it).

Cooling off in the AC with helados and coffee granizados.

Afterwards, we rode back through the Retiro and saw….no one (save a miserable runner who must have been training for Kona or the like).  We should not have been surprised, but we marveled anyway and then remembered the other way that people deal with the heat…that is, by staying inside and waiting for the pleasantness of the evening to re-emerge…sounds familiar, right?  ¡La siesta!  Even though I’ve heard the siesta is not what it used to be in Spain, it still seems to be here, although perhaps changed a bit.

Those smart Spaniards.


1 Aug

We’ve been absent these last few weeks, so the blog has been neglected!  If you are curious what we were up to, check out our sailing blog that chronicled our trip across the Atlantic in our sailboat:

  • The start of the entries for our trip.
  • A stopover in the Azores, with pictures here.
  • Finishing our trip last week by arriving in Portugal, with pictures to come.


Finally caved in…

7 Jun

…and decided I needed to get my hair done.  By “done”, I get a few highlights and have it cut.  Normally not too big of a deal, except I always wince at the price.  I’ve not gone to a salon in Spain before today.  Justin has – I found a place he can go to close to our apartment, and he has his monthly appointment that has been working well.

I’ve been using periodic trips back to the states to take care of those kinds of personal care items – it’s just a bit easier, but today, I was in a “what the hell” mood, so I walked to a salon.  I’d prepared a little since some of the vocab was new to me.  I explained that I wanted some highlights (hacerme mechas) and that I wanted to cut my hair (cortarme el pelo).  I was completely ready to have to make an appointment and come back, but luckily, they took me immediately.  After confirming that I wanted blonde highlights (versus the pretty purple ones that were in the stylist’s hair), I was left alone in the seat with a Spanish tabloid where I got to peruse a number of pages of posed pictures of some lovely, famous Spanish lady who has two lovely, famous daughters and a big house in Argentina – I was most impressed with the picture of these women in fancy clothes posing on a river raft with paddles.  It appears that, in Spain, tabloids are for the people who want to be photographed.

When my stylist came back with the color, she also came back with a partner…and between the two of them, I had highlights painted all over my hair in record time – certainly not more than 15 minutes later.  I’ve never quite experienced that before, as the whole process usually seems to take hours.  There wasn’t much small talk – they’d probably grown tired of my clarifications because it was pretty challenging to me – I could not hear well over the hairdryers, and they were speaking incredibly fast…maybe some sort of hip, cool Spanish that was a bit over my head, anyway.

After washing all the stuff out of my hair, I got my haircut – un poquito (just a bit…helped with an enthusiastic gesture with my finger and thumb), con flequillos largos (long bangs) y capas largas (long layers).  No problem.

After everything was done, I was a happy camper.  Record time (just over an hour!) and pretty inexpensive (54 euros ~$68).  And now I look less like Scooby Doo.

Elevator etiquette

30 May Wiki Commons - photo taken by Pavlemadrid

Madrid has a few highrises that are scattered throughout the city; my Spanish class happens to be almost to the top of one of these buildings.  Twice a week, I show up in the lobby, explain that I have a class, and ask for permission to go to the 42nd floor.  They scan my NIE card and then hand it back to me with an access card.

I make my way to the elevators that go up to the 42nd floor and crowd into them with smartly dressed Spanish businessmen and businesswomen, many of whom have just finished their smoke break (curiously, it seems that Europe has not convinced its citizens that smoking is hazardous to one’s health, but at least there is an excellent healthcare system in most countries should you need it).  Crammed into the elevator, it is inevitable that every one of the buttons will be pushed – so, even though the elevator only serves 12 or so floors, it’s going to be a lengthy ride.

It’s difficult to be irritated, though, because everyone is just too darn friendly on the elevators.

Sure enough, the elevator gets to the first floor it services and opens.  The man in the pink shirt (no issues here with wearing pink!) steps out and says, “A…go!”  Next floor, the woman in 4-inch heels teeters out and calls back to the people still in the elevator, “A…go!”  Occasionally, people in the elevator will respond back with the same.

Initially, I had no idea what was going on – contagious sneezing?  Some strange phrase that was not in my Lonely Planet guidebook that I carried around with me when I first arrived?  Finally, I had it explained to me – they’re saying “hasta luego” really, really, really fast.  And people say it almost always, even if it ends up being a bit mumbled (although I’m pretty sure they don’t say it to an empty elevator – but I’ve not requested video footage to see if this phenomena, similar that of “if a tree falls in the forest” exists).

Curiously, I don’t find that Spaniards go out of their way on the street to greet strangers or even make eye contact.  But, put them in an elevator, and they’ll treat you like they’re going to see you again, so they should end the chance meeting in a friendly manner.  I suppose these people likely do see one another occasionally as they work in the same building, but generally, there is no chit chat until the person boisterously exits and calls their farewell.  I think it’s quirky and fun, and I love it, even though I still butcher it a bit because my mind thinks I need to pronounce all the letters.


Sunday strolls (and where we’ve been!)

13 May

It’s true – we’ve been missing in action.  We’ve been messing around on our boat in the US, but we’re back in Madrid now.

For the past week, we’ve been dealing with the exhaustion and feeling of being rundown that seems to accompany a return to real life after a vacation of sorts, coupled with real jetlag.  This weekend, though, life has returned to normal, and we’re enjoying some warm summer-like days.  We have been taking our girls on really long walks – we missed them while we were gone, and our longer walks allow us to spend lots of time in the greenest areas of our neighborhood – this is good for the soul!

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